Sophisticated Savories

Sophisticated Savories

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Seared scallop with mushroom horseradish truffle duxelle, Dijon rosemary sabayon and arugula oil

Seared scallop with mushroom horseradish truffle duxelle, Dijon rosemary sabayon and arugula oil

Many individuals have a basic culinary knowledge, but the food pairing can be difficult... what flavors work well together?  What textures compliment a dish, as opposed to overpowering?  When do you stop adding ingredients to a plate?

Trust me when I say that you must at some point try the following:

Seared scallop with mushroom horseradish truffle duxelle, Dijon rosemary sabayon and arugula oil

Scallops - easy.  Season with salt, black pepper and a few drop of lemon juice, then sear in almond oil.  Done.

Mushroom-truffle duxelle.  There were beautiful organic white button mushrooms on sale and I could not pass up their price.  While button mushrooms do not exactly scream "I have the best flavor in the world!" when cooked by their lonesome, I decided to add some finesse and dress them up to impress.  Think Pretty Lady... from drab to sophisticated by simply rubbing away the dirt, then adding key ingredients.  I sauteed in almond oil, then added a touch of Pino Noir and chicken stock to deglaze the pan.  A dusting of herbs de Provence, squeeze of lemon juice, dollop of horseradish and pinch of cayenne pepper added the necessary flavors to enhance the once pitiful mushrooms.  The ultimate enhancement?  A few drops of truffle oil.  Done.

Dijon-rosemary sabayon.  Since scallops are a delicate mollusk to enjoy, they should be paired with a light sauce... an essence, if you will.  The sauce is not meant to be the featured item on the plate, but only present to add a discrete (yet necessary) element.  After cooking my sabayon, ( ), I simply seasoned with cayenne pepper, freshly chopped rosemary, a few teaspoons of Dijon mustard and black pepper.  The Dijon and rosemary worked perfectly with the truffled horseradish mushroom duxelle.  Done.

I have also been experimenting with making my own herb-infused oils.  Ergo, arugula oil not only provides a subtle nutty flavor, but a vibrant forest-green hue to capture your focus and draw you to the plate.  Rather than overpowering the plate with a fire-engine red cherry tomato, I opted for the yellow counterpart.  Why?  The yellow adds a pop of delicate color that is not as harsh as red.  If I used red, then the eye would be drawn immediately to the red tomato, as opposed to the seared scallop.  And it may have resembled Christmas a little too much with the green arugula oil.  Done.

Finishing touches?  A few light micro-greens to top the scallop.

While upon first glance, the plate may seem simple.  Yet, once tasted, your palate is able to discern and enjoy the multitude of flavors dancing and flowing together.  Not overly-complicated, yet composed in nature.  It just... works.

"Child, you have to learn to see things in the right proportions.  Learn to see great things great and small things small." - Corrie ten Boom


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Savory Sabayon

Simplicity in sauces


Aka. "zabaglione," or, an Italian dessert made from egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine.  However, this dessert can also be transformed into a savory sauce: drizzled over grilled asparagus, form a frothy pool to rest a perfectly-seared filet of Dover Sole, or cascade down a delicate poached eggs Benedict brunch.

Many are intimidated when cooking sabayon due to the risk of making scrambled eggs, as opposed to light, frothy sauce.  First of all, practice makes perfect.  Do not expect that you will make a 'cordon bleu' sauce on your first attempt.  If you mess up, guess what - throw the first attempt away and simply try it again.  

1/4 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp lemon juice
Coarse sea salt, to taste
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper, smokey paprika
1 tsp turmeric
Finely grated lemon zest (garnish)

First, whisk cream until soft-peaks form.

In a medium heatproof bowl, place the yolks, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne pepper, smokey paprika, turmeric and whisk immediately.  Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, or double-boiler.  Be sure that the water does not begin to boil, nor touches the bottom of the heatproof bowl.  If the heatproof bowl becomes too warm too quickly, then the eggs will coagulate and form scrambled eggs, as opposed to their intended sauce-like state.  Whisk constantly, occasionally removing from the heat, in order to prevent the mixture from becoming too hot and overcooking.  Once the mixture has thickened significantly - the whisk should 'leave a trail' of ribbon-like patterns when pulled through the mixture (about 4-5 minutes), then remove the bowl from the heat.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the mixture, until it is completely incorporated.  

A sabayon is best when served immediately.  Be sure that all of the elements and components of your meal are ready before making - as the sabayon will be the final aspect of your dish.  

"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" - Vincent van Gogh


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Smokey curry carrot/ginger puree with seared salmon and pickled red bell pepper/tomato garnish

My mother made my own baby food when I was a child: natural ingredients free from preservatives, MSG and all other additives.  While the reaction to many is a jaw-drop or furrowed brow, stop and think about it for one minute.  Have you ever made your own soup?  Have you every blended vegetables to form a puree?  Have you ever made your own smoothie?

For many, the answer is yes.  The majority of baby foods is simply pureed vegetables.  So the next time that you sit down at a fine-dining restaurant and see a beautiful bright carrot puree artistically swiped across your edible plate of art, you may think to yourself... "I'm spending how much for this glorified baby food?"

I am only kidding, of course.  Well, to an extent.

The point is, pureed vegetables are a beautiful enhancement to a plethora of meals.  Rich in color and flavor, purees can also range in a variety of textures: chunky puree, smooth sauce, even a hearty soup.

Example: carrot/ginger puree

Essential nutrients in vegetables cannot withstand high temperatures for a long duration of time.  Ergo, the less time cooked, the better the vitamin and mineral retention.  

4 large carrots - peel, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 small knob ginger - peel
juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Now essentially - this could be a basic carrot/ginger puree by simply steaming the carrots and ginger for about 5 minutes, then blending into a smooth puree (will need to add water in order to "thin" the consistency of the puree).  However, this is where your creative chef skills come into play.

You're designing a dinner menu and you are focusing on the presentation of the plates.  Remember, simplicity is key: trying to accomplish too much will only result in pandemonium.  For one course, you choose to serve salmon with the carrot/ginger puree.  Two key components will be on the plate: the salmon and the carrot/ginger puree... and some type of a garnish.  Simple, yes.  Yet, how do you impart more flavors into the seemingly-lackluster dish?  Via the realm of herbs, spices, oil and vinegar.

When a bride-to-be is trying on wedding gowns, she usually has the internal instinct of knowing which is "the dress."  Sometimes the supportive family members and friends who she brings with her do not see the "vision" until she is "jacked up," a term meaning, "add the veil, tiara, necklace and earrings."  Essentially, to enhance the dress and see the "big picture." 

K.  Well, same can be applied to a simple puree:

Smokey-curry carrot/ginger puree
The same process as above.  However, this time, while the carrots and ginger are blending, add 1 Tbsp curry power, 1 tsp turmeric, 2 tsp smokey paprika, pinch of cayenne pepper and 1 tsp liquid smoke.

Rosemary-Dijon carrot/ginger puree
The same process as above.  However, this time, while the carrots and ginger are blending, add 1 Tbsp freshly chopped ginger, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard and 2 tsp herbs de Provence.

There truly are a myriad of possibilities... just taking the basic carrot/ginger puree and completely changing the flavor by adding basic ingredients.

I made the smokey-curry version in order to compliment the salmon.  For a garnish, a red bell pepper/tomato picked salad and sprig of dill.  Not too complicated, but surprising to the palate.  One would not expect the smokey-flavor to be present in the puree... a way to discreetly add another element to the presentation, while still maintaining the simplicity.

Visualize it, then create it.

"There are always flowers for those who want to see them." - Henri Matisse


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crispy duck breast skin with mango-turmeric puree, bourbon-poached figs and roasted rosemary Brussels sprouts

You're sitting in a candle-lit wine cellar, enjoying a multi-course meal with friends.  Peering down, a slew of dazzling silver utensils are displayed, in order of height, resembling cadets ready to march into battle.  As the servers flawlessly pour the varieties of wine, the nectar cascades into the glasses; a natural aeration from bottle to crystal goblet.  As courses are presented, one in particular proves to be an unforgettable play on textures, flavors and brilliant combination: duck breast with crispy skin, mango-turmeric puree, bourbon-poached figs and roasted rosemary Brussels sprouts.

Why does this work.

Duck is often sauced with fruit, as the fruit contains an essential acid that compliments and 'counterbalances' the rich duck meat.  For example, the French classic, canard a l'orange (duck with orange sauce), employs the bitter element of oranges to sooth the gamy meat.  Rather than creating the expected, challenge yourself to take advantage of other fruits.  In this case, mango.  

While mango is a very sweet fruit, I used turmeric, smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper in order to add a more 'earthy' and 'smoky' flavor to the sweet puree:

Mango puree:
2 cups of mango chunks
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp smokey paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup of water

Simply blend all ingredients together and serve at room temperature.

For the duck breast:

Using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin on the duck breast in a criss-cross pattern (a 'hashtag' if you will):

#duckbreast #crispyskin #quack

Suppress the urge the desire to snap a selfie at this point and put the phone down.  Please.

#chef #foodie #cooking #nomnomnom

You know what I'm talking about.  And yes, we all do it.

Sprinkle both sides of the duck with salt and pepper.  Be sure to push the seasonings into the scores on the duck breast skin too.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until high, then reduce the heat to medium.  Do not add butter or oil to the pan.  Rather, place the duck breast, skin-side down, in the skillet.  Do not touch the meat at this point, but allow the skin-crisping process to occur organically.

As the skin begins to cook, it will render.  The fat is literally melting away.  You will notice the pan begin to fill with the rendered duck fat; do not pour off the fat, as the fat from the pan helps to render the fat in the skin.

The amount of time for the skin to crisp depends on the thickness of the duck skin being rendered, size of the duck breast being cooked and temperature of the heat on the stove.  I generally check the skin after about 5-7 minutes.  Again, be sure to cook on a medium heat, as a high-heat will burn the duck skin, as opposed to achieving a crispy-crust.  Once the skin looks crispy, flip the breast.  At this point, I will baste the meat with the rendered juices in the pan.  Simply tilt the saute pan to collect the rendered fat in a spoon and pour over the duck skin.  This basting action will allow the rendered fat to continue to crisp the skin, while keeping the meat tender.  "Drying-out" will not be an option.  After about a minute of continual basting, pour off all but 2 tsp of fat from the pan (reserve this duck fat (aka. 'liquid gold' for another use).  

At this point, I will often lightly 'paint' the crispy duck-skin with Dijon mustard and sprinkle with freshly chopped rosemary.  The rich tang of Dijon seeps into the duck skin and the rosemary adds a fresh aromatic flavor.  Return the duck breast to the skillet, skin side up, then place in a 400 degree oven.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes, until just under medium-rare.  Why the oven?  The oven will help the skin to crisp even further, while keeping the integrity of the juicy interior.  Transfer the duck to a clean plate and loosely cover with foil as you allow it to rest.  

FYI: This is the most important element of the cooking process- allowing the meat to rest.  You may have flawlessly employed the perfect technique to achieving a crispy duck-breast skin; however, if you immediately cut into the protein, then all of your hard-work will be for naught. 

Why?  By allowing your meat to rest, the proteins are re-absorbing the juices internally.  If you immediately cut into the meat, then the coveted juices escape onto the plate, as opposed to in your mouth.  Allow the meat to rest at the very least 5 minutes.  Ideally, aim for 10-12 minutes of resting.

When plating, dollop a large spoon of the mango puree on a white plate.  Carefully push the back of your spoon across the plate, "smearing" the puree into an artistic brushstroke.  This 'ray of sunlight' is the base for your dish.  Carefully place a few roasted Brussels sprouts on the yellow-line.  Remember, aim for odd numbers: ergo, slice three brilliant pieces of your perfectly-cooked duck breast.  In order to "show off" your skills, prop the sliced duck breast up on a few of the Brussels sprouts (to keep from simply lying 'flat' on the plate).  By stacking food in the presentation, you can create a more 3-D visual for the consumer.  Add a few bourbon-poached figs to surround the duck breast, then finish with a touch of chive oil (you could even do truffle oil here) and micro-greens. 

Fun fact:  When consumed sans the skin, duck breasts are as lean as white meat chicken or turkey.  Ergo, aim to consume less of the crispy skin (I know... the most flavorful element of the plate!)  Whether you end up eating the skin or not, I recommend cooking with the skill still intact, as it will guarantee a better flavor and prevent the meat from drying out.  If you want to avoid the extra fat, simply cut away before serving (the fat is in the skin, not the meat).  

And guess what... should you 'fail' during the cooking process, fret not.  The brilliant aspect about cooking in your home?  You may always try again.  Sometimes flavor profiles simply do not pair well together.  Sometimes you will over-cook a piece of meat.  Sometimes soup may over-boil.  The point is, ask yourself what happened... what went wrong?  Learn from your mistake, then simply try again.  But you'll never know unless you try!

"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement." - C.S. Lewis


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reflections of a chef: creamed corn puree, butter poached lobster, purple Peruvian potato, creme fraiche and caviar

Reflections of a chef

Whether we want to admit it or not... do we ever truly "grow up?"  Or should we?

While age often prescribes more responsibilities, I firmly believe that remaining "young at heart" is an essential ingredient in life.  Why?

Imagination and creativity seem to exude from children... playing "make believe," transforming cardboard boxes into castles, climbing trees, making forts with bed sheets... here's a foreign concept... reading!  

Be that as it may... while you may not have time to be creative in terms of the manner that you dress or fueling your imagination by "playing outside," use the kitchen as a means for your creative outlet.  I mean, you have to prepare food anyway... why not take a few extra minutes to make it whimsical?

While I am an advocate of white plates (they allow the food to "pop"), I also welcome other mediums... mirrors, wooden cutting boards, slate, clean rocks, etc.  

I once cooked a nine-course meal in which I plated the amuse bouche on a mirror.  Why?  Why not?  The guests enjoyed the nontraditional, yet refined plate of: creamed corn puree, roasted purple Peruvian potato, butter-poached lobster tail, creme fraiche, reduce balsamic vinaigrette and caviar.

Why did this combination work together?  

Lobster has a very sweet flavor when slowly poached in butter.  In order to compliment the nectarous shellfish, I paired it with a creamed corn puree.  Since corn can be a very sweet vegetable, I created a more savory flavor with smoked paprika and thinned with heavy cream.  I tossed with a roasted purple Peruvian potato (seasoned with herbs de Provence- the lavender in the herbs de Provence helped to "brighten" the amuse bouche).  

A drizzle of reduced balsamic vinaigrette provided a sweet tang, as well as artistic flare on the mirror.  Because the lobster tail was warm, the small dollop of creme fraiche melted into the lobster meat and cascaded onto the potato.  To top it off, a touch of caviar.

While this is a very rich dish, notice the portion size... an amuse bouche is literally one or two bites.  Balance, variety and moderation will allow you to enjoy fine-dining, but also to keep your waist-line in check.  

"Creativity is intelligence having fun." - Albert Einstein


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Warm veggie soups - remix

Five o'clock.

Winter coat on.  Cubicle light off.  Wave au revoir to your co-workers and immediately begin to think, "what will I enjoy for dinner?"  Opening the door to exit, you are immediately whipped in the face with the frozen-tundra air of winter... 

Warm soup has suddenly exponentially compounded in interest... 

I was perusing the organic soup aisle at the grocery store and to my dismay, even some organic soups have "hidden ingredients" on the nutrition label.  For example: corn starches, unnecessary oils, etc.  And who knows how long the "fresh" vegetables have been sitting in the cans...

Ergo, I began blending my own soups and have discovered a "magical land" in new flavors/textures.  Not only am I able to create new flavor combinations, but I also save money, time and eliminate all preservatives/unnecessary additives.

Blending your own soups help hide veggies for those "choosy" consumers in your family.  It also allows you to use produce before it begins to spoil.  Whenever I shop at the grocery store, I keep an eye out for "manager's special" tags, as well as items on special sales.  While discounted significantly, the produce is typically on its "last legs" - and thus must be used immediately.  Opening my refrigerator, I noticed an organic "party tray" that I purchased via manager's special.  Rather than morphing into "bunny mode" and noisily gnawing on raw carrots, I decided to transform the carrot/broccoli/tomato and asparagus into a healthy soup.  

In order to create a nutritious meal, I already had cooked quinoa and raw orange lentils on hand.  While cooking the lentils (I seasoned with smokey paprika, lemon juice and cayenne pepper), I simply threw the party tray of veggies into my Vitamix (except for the asparagus).  Once the orange lentils were tender (they cook fast), I added them to the Vitamix.  In order to incorporate more protein into my soup, I simply added 1 cup of quinoa, 1 tsp flax seed and 1 tsp hemp seeds... then hit blend and watched the magical transformation of blended wonderment.

After properly seasoning the soup, it tasted like heaven... but let's face it... it looked like baby food.  While bright in color, not exactly aesthetically stunning.  Ergo, I added a few asparagus tips, pickled red onion and edible flowers.


Smokey in flavor, warming to the soul and bright with colors... soups are a brilliant manner of challenging yourself in the kitchen when playing with flavor combinations.  

"The thing about creativity is, people are going to laugh at it.  Get over it." - Twyla Tharp


Monday, January 13, 2014

Chilean sea bass with cucumber noodles and horseradish sauce

"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversations; that is what I call good company." - Jane Austen, Persuasion

Good company inspires, uplifts, encourages and challenges us to make improvements in our lives.  After a meaningful conversation, one will often walk away with a renewed mind and more confident demeanor.  Point being, in any type of healthy relationship (romantic or friendship), the pairing of the two souls inspire one another to become even better than their current situations.

And this has to do with cooking... how?

Use ingredients and produce to compliment and enhance each other.  For example: seafood.  All too often, a seared fillet of fish will often find itself sitting atop a large portion of pasta/beside a heaping side of mashed potatoes.  Nothing is wrong with this combination.  And in some situations, it can be an enjoyable dish.  However... sometimes it seems like the chef just "gave up" in the last quarter of the game.  The hard work of tender, love and care in searing/basting the fish was already accomplished... why not take equal care when preparing a side to actually showcase the fish?

The only 'problem' with pasta and potatoes when consuming  a fillet of fish?  Everything is the same texture.  It is difficult to differentiate between the fish and pasta/potato.  Again, nothing is wrong with this pairing... but I prefer more variation.

Enter in, vegetables.  Not only more healthy in terms of nutrition, but vegetables cane also be transformed into 'noodles.'  Let's take a cucumber, shall we? (may also use shaved root vegetables - rutabaga, turnip, radish, squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini, etc.)  

Cucumber noodles
1 large English cucumber
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp minced rosemary (fresh) - could also to cilantro
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper, salt (to taste)
1/4 cup of Extra-virgin olive oil

First peel the cucumber and discard the green outer layer.  Using a "Y" peeler, carefully shave long, slim noodles.  Because the "noodles" are thin enough, they provide a subtle crunch... pleasing to the palate.  In a medium bowl, marinate the shaved cucumber with a few splashes of lemon juice, pinch of cayenne pepper, salt, freshly chopped rosemary, Dijon mustard and extra-virgin olive oil.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then pair with a seared filler of fish... think sea bass, salmon, haddock, tilapia, etc.

Rather than serving with a cream sauce (high in calories and fat), use 0% Greek yogurt as a base for a light sauce.  For example:

1 cup 0% Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp white wine
2 tsp horseradish
Pinch cayenne pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt - to taste

Simply combine all ingredients and warm on the stove top.  If you prefer a more viscus consistency, add chicken or vegetable stock to "thin."

Granted, yes - a cream sauce would compliment the dish exponentially more.  However, when considering your daily diet and health, opt for the Greek yogurt.  Point being, both enhance the fish.

When plating, ladle the sauce on the bottom of the plate, then add the marinated cucumber noodles to the center of the bulls-eye.  Carefully placed the sauteed fish atop the noddles  .If you kept the skin-on while cooking, be sure that the crispy skin is facing up to 'show off' the golden crust (yes, this is your way of bragging in a silent manner... a perfectly-crisp skin is impressive when cooked correctly).  Top with a few fresh herbs, salmon roe/caviar and edible flowers.  Why not?

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams